An Enquiry into Teaching and Learning the Skills Needed to Become a Competent Alexander Technique Teacher

Canberra Alexander Teacher Training School

Heads of Training: Michael Stenning and Léonie John

Year Three Report (Terms 7,8, 9, of projected 9 terms)

October 2019 


The Canberra Alexander Teacher Training School (CATTS) is a non-traditional Alexander Technique teacher training course that has a high level of structured content, a high teacher-student ratio with very experienced teachers, fewer than standard face-to-face hours, and a policy of structured off-premises formal practice. At the end of their ninth term (week 89 of training) the course’s AuSTAT moderator assessed the three students as being of a competent beginning-teacher standard.


For a full background and other prefatory material, this report should be read in conjunction with the first- and second-year reports.

In the second-year report we wrote:

We note the wide range of training variables over the time that Alexander Teacher trainings have existed, e.g. trainer to trainee ratio, hours of attendance, days per week. We also note that there is no commonly accepted “curriculum”, notwithstanding that there is some commonality between courses. There seems to be a minimum of sharing of content between courses. We note also that the background of trainers varies.

We want to answer the question, “Can our training format produce competent teachers/teachers comparable in competence with those from traditional/more conventional trainings?”

We keep a daily record daily of all structure and all content, with a view to being able to comment on what we did and how it worked in relation to the goal of producing competent beginning teachers.

There is discussion in the Alexander world about standards, assessment, and competency in the training of teachers. We are interested in the process of training and in being able to contribute to these discussions. 

Thus, there is no commonly recognised structure (notwithstanding the ATAS quantitative standards), content or methodology for the training of AT teachers.



All three original trainees continued during the third year.



Evolution of the Canberra Alexander Teacher Training School structure – see earlier article in ITM, Journal of AuSTAT, Spring 2016 pgs 12 – 15, which noted the need to manage the “social intensity” arising out of working together with just two trainees (it became three) as a risk to be managed. Hence part of the rationale for the program structure: how to find a way of spending enough time together with the trainees on practical work (the 80% of training), yet not so much that the whole experience becomes unbearable and implodes. (Michael Shellshear, the then Chair of AuSTAT also noted that our proposal may help to address the issue of accessibility to training for people living outside of the two biggest Australian cities.)

We continued to meet for 3 terms per year, 10 weeks per term.  We continued to run 3 days per week, 2.5 hours each day, total 7.5 formal hours per week, with additional time as follows: in terms 7, 8, and 9, each trainee gave fully supervised lessons and gave or contributed to 12 fully supervised classes.

In each of terms 7 and 8, each trainee gave from seven to up to ten supervised lessons in term 7 and again in term 8 to someone new to the Technique (usually a friend or acquaintance), that is, each trainee gave up to 20 supervised lessons, split between two pupils over two terms. One or other of the trainers sat in. Notes were taken by the supervising trainer and discussed with the trainee either directly after the lesson or else in class with all of them during the days following. The supervising teacher would also sometimes intervene with suggestions as appropriate, or else act as a resource if the trainee got stuck in any way.

All three trainees attended some or all of two series of classes at the ANU School of Music: one series of six classes for pre-tertiary students was given by Michael in which the trainees were observers and gave turns; the second series of six classes for tertiary students was co-led by the trainees, with supervision and feedback from the directors as per the supervised practice lessons.

The students were still expected to complete and formally log a weekly minimum of six hours’ solo practice, approximating the time spent on a larger course when not directly having a turn or under direct supervision. The practice procedures were regularly revisited.

The trainees’ practical time thus amounted to a weekly total of 13 to14 hours, plus any reading or writing tasks. The teacher:student ratio during attendance times remained 2:3, which is more than 3 times the ATAS-preferred ratio of 1:5, always with highly experienced teachers. Students continued with their learning journals.

The ban on use of hands on members of the public/family/friends outside of class was lifted at the end of T6. We were satisfied that the detailed attention given by the trainees to their own use, as well as lots of closely supervised* hands-on training, had built a solid foundation from which they might start to use their hands. We also believed that by that stage they had a deep enough understanding and respect for what they were doing to see that it really isn’t as easy as it may look: while they knew that they had acquired some skills in the use of their hands, they nevertheless understood that they were still beginners.

In terms 7, 8, and 9, there was scope for each student to have logged 225 face-to-face class hours, 15 hours of supervised lessons, 24 hours of workshops and 180 formal practice hours, plus attendance at any trainer-given presentations. See table under ‘LOGGED ACTIVITIES’ below for actual totals.

On two days each week the daily timetable included 80 to 100 minutes practical work, and on the third day 45 to 60 minutes, with both teachers taking the lead simultaneously or in turn. The amount of practical work was reduced in the final term as the time available was used for dealing with teaching questions and other discussions about professional practice.

*See Carolyn Nicholls’ book Notes on the Work of Dilys Carrington. This is a great training primer. It also comments on the importance of accurate, precise and carefully given trainer feedback, as well as the importance of discouraging trainee feedback, particularly in the early stages of the process of learning to use the hands in the characteristically elastic way we aspire to.



We continued to stick to basics while continuously raising the bar. We progressively challenged the trainees to respond to higher levels of demand on themselves as teachers with maintenance of their ‘elastic’ use of themselves (as an athlete might train to maintain their form through a gruelling event or a musician to play more sensitively, higher, faster, etc.)

We continued to follow an explicit daily plan, with daily turns, hands-on activities, and directed activities with various themes and discussion. We encouraged the trainees to learn through frequent careful feedback to develop the ability to deal with a steady increase in demand: attending to more inputs, i.e. cultivating balanced attention to self and environment including the pupil; continually refining/honing skills; and always asking them for the most they were capable of. At any given point, the bar was being raised.

Daily and weekly rhythms continued. As a modus operandi, once it became apparent that the trainee could attain the new development of a skill, we would increase the challenge. Detours from the day’s plan became a little freer as the year wore on, an acknowledgement that practical skills were becoming reliable and that simultaneously other elements of teaching or running a teaching practice were becoming increasingly relevant. While there were digressions related to practical skills and other questions that arose, we took care not to be unduly side-tracked and to still cover each day’s content.

All activities were recorded in the trainer’s log. Because of the high teacher:student ratio, feedback and instruction to trainees was always highly individualised, with plenty of opportunities for repetition. General points and principles would emerge from this.



The third year’s content had two broad themes:

  • Developing hands-on skills: Further refining skills of responding to demand (i.e. hand-contact conveying in either direction weight, pressure, contact, movement and potentially other elements of the ‘conversation’ between teacher and pupil) with release and expansion – tone, rib freedom, overall elasticity, ground contact, i.e. lengthening and widening via Inhibition and Direction.
  • Continuing to refine language to effectively communicate verbally as necessary – being able to explain clearly and articulately the what, why and how of what you want to convey, including what you want of your pupil at any given point in a lesson.


It was expected that trainees:

  • demonstrate continued application of all the Year-1 Learning Outcomes:
    • improvement in own use
    • understanding of how to work on oneself
    • deepen their understanding of Inhibition and Direction
    • appropriate knowledge of Anatomy and Physiology and Alexander Technique literature.


  • demonstrate continued application of all Year-2 Learning Outcomes:
    • ability to continue working on self while hands are on another person
    • some ability to perceive with hands
    • an ability to give a table-turn
    • a basic level of skill in working in the chair.

The learning outcomes and assessment criteria for T9 are outlined in the following table.

End of Term 9 Learning Outcomes

Assessment Criteria

The Trainee will:

The Trainee can:

1. Demonstrate ability to communicate practice and theory of the Alexander Technique to a new pupil

1.1 Assess the needs of a new pupil, and respond appropriately.

1.2 Explain Alexander concepts in a digestible form.

1.3 Deliver an appropriate first lesson, using verbal information as well as manual guidance, and/or other teaching aids as appropriate.


2. Demonstrate the ability to match practical and verbal information to pupil’s needs.

2.1 Use his/her own hands to monitor the pupil’s learning process.

2.2 Use other means, eg verbal, to check on pupil’s understanding of concepts.

2.3 Modify their teaching strategy if necessary

3. Demonstrate the ability to give a

series of Alexander Technique lessons/classes

3.1 Use his/her hands with appropriate skill

3.2 Give a table turn and chair work appropriately to the pupil’s learning needs

3.3 Explain why he/she is working the way he/she is at any given point. This may involve reiterations of concepts and principles. 

3.4 Adapt a lesson to a pupil’s needs as needed.

3.5 teach ‘traditional procedures’ if appropriate; work with pupil in an activity, eg playing a musical instrument, doing yoga etc


It should be emphasised that the above table (and corresponding tables in earlier reports) should be viewed as a retrospective look at the outcomes of the year’s process-oriented work. The trainees never saw these tables and we, the trainers, were attending to the day-by-day process. They do not represent goals to be achieved. This table simply shows the outcomes of our process-oriented approach. It is a nod to the current enthusiasm for a distilled, tabulated expression of a much more organic, yet rigorous, process-oriented evolution. In fact, the ‘Learning Outcomes’ and ‘Assessment Criteria’ tables were written at the end of each year, when we could look back and see what we had done.


Content Detail

Hands-on Groups

Hands-on groups began much as in the previous two years, always extending skills. The HoGs tended progressively into specific, practical hands-on skills, e.g. taking a head on the table, adjusting book heights, work in the saddle, walking, and different ways of getting people on and off the table, i.e. ‘real’ procedures as opposed to practice procedures. Throughout, we kept coming back to the basic AT skills, fostered through Directed Activity-style content. Thus any procedure could be viewed both as a generic ‘etude’ as well as a potentially specific skill.

A further significant extension was that during the final part of the school morning, each trainee would work on one or other of the trainers and receive direct feedback, or work on each other with close supervision and feedback.

Directed Activities 

For directed activities we continued to use John Nicholl’s unpublished list, developmental sources (e.g. Dart). and others resources as per previous reports.

Whilst the DAs still continued in the form of previous years’ DAs, (i.e. making a demand of some sort and building skills to maintain Inhibition and Direction in the face of the demand), often the content became more interchangeable with the HoG activities. A continuing theme throughout the third year was the incorporation of activities reflecting human developmental processes, particularly those based on or derived from Dart.

Pedagogy, Discussion and Questions

We dealt with various teaching challenges: e.g. how to get a pupil to not stiffen their neck; the relation this bears to other changing  indicators, e.g. freedom or otherwise in breathing or in legs; how to break a goal down to achievable steps; not fixing eyes; working with people with different types of use, e.g. someone who is excessively stiff, someone who is excessively floppy, etc.; and lots about words: which to use, what the words need to convey, developing a vocabulary of useful words, what words/ideas to avoid, how to say exactly what you mean, and the timing of words. Particularly in T7 and T8, time was spent on specific types of words and ideas that communicate accurately. These ideas were further refined in T9.

Discussions were invariably illustrated with pedagogical examples from our own experience. They also involved all aspects of establishing and running a teaching practice.

Demonstrations of first lessons:

During terms 7 and 8, I gave four demonstrations of first lessons – two to women aged around 40, and two to men in their 70s. The trainees said they found this very useful. There was always lots of discussion after about: how I found each pupil; why I did and said something in relation to what I could feel with my hands; and how questions were answered. 

Supervised lessons

In hands-on groups during T5 and T6, a requirement from time to time was for the trainees to verbalise their directions as they were working on each other or on us. This verbalisation constituted practice at extending the breadth of their attention: being clear in their thinking about what they were intending/directing for themselves and articulating this while simultaneously using their hands. This provided a step towards working on beginner pupils, where information needed to be provided verbally as well as with the hands.

A new element in T7 was the supervised lesson. The purpose of supervision was to support the trainees. The trainee was addressed, while remembering that their pupil was also present. One or other of the trainers was always present. Initially, trainer intervention was sometimes needed or useful and discussions were held as if the pupil were absent. By the end of T7, all trainees had gained confidence and fluency in dealing with the complexity of communicating with a real pupil and some logical flow to the lesson.

The supervised lessons continued, each trainee with a new pupil during T8. The supervising teacher would take notes and either hold a short debrief immediately after the supervised lesson, and/or in class with appropriate discussion of the questions or issues raised.

On a few occasions a practice pupil came in to class – this was an opportunity for all to work on each others’ pupils, with discussion. There was also the opportunity for working on practical activities with the pupil, e.g. walking, computer work.

First-lesson plan, one-off workshop plan, series of six workshop plans

Each trainee was required to write a detailed plan for a first lesson, a plan for a one-off, self-contained group workshop, and a plan for a series of six group workshops. The first-lesson plan was able to be trialled in the supervised lessons; and the group presentations were able to be trialled during the group workshops held at the ANU School of Music during T9.


Each trainee had the opportunity to lead and teach learning games (with a view to running classes), both in class with their peers and during SoM workshops.


As mentioned earlier under STRUCTURE, external events included a series of six classes for pre-tertiary students at the ANU School of Music. This was followed by a further series of six classes for tertiary students. Both series were introductory.

Attendance at retreat in Victoria

One trainee attended the SoFMAS AT retreat in Victoria. Exposure to other teachers and trainees offered different perspectives on the Alexander work generally as well as on CATTS training.


References were regularly made to various anatomy texts, normally in the context of illuminating a question that had arisen, or a teaching point, e.g. about hand contact/directions; breathing; how weight is carried through the skeleton etc.


In addition to the expectation that trainees would increase their familiarity with Alexander’s books, reading included books by Nicholls/Carey, Ruth Rootberg, and Carey/Barlow, de Alcantara, Langford, and Walsh (re Peggy Williams). All the trainees joined various Facebook AT groups, generally in the latter part of their training. They also reported finding the internet more relevant towards the latter part of training. Use was, for example, made of Rickover podcasts. Trainees reported that in their own time they had read further, including books by Jane Heirich and Patrick MacDonald.

Written work:

Written work included lesson and class plans, a short article about Inhibition and Direction, and reflections on each term’s work. The trainers gave feedback on the written components of curriculum.

Visiting teachers/moderation

Apart from the occasional visit from teachers, over the year we had week-long visits from senior teachers Merran Poplar, Ann Shoebridge and Jenny Thirtle, all of whom unofficially moderated the trainees. Merran is a STAT moderator, and Ann an AuSTAT moderator, while Jenny is a long-time TC co-director, albeit without moderator status. John Nicholls worked with the three students together, offering a further overview of their progress. Penelope Carr, the school’s AuSTAT moderator, made her third-year moderation visit during T9.

Their comments gave us the confidence that we and the trainees were on track.

General Public Visits – music/yoga/tai chi pupils

We had several pupil visitors in the interest of the trainees getting experience of working with a wider range of people, and also of seeing demonstrations of us working with them on particular activities. These visitors included the trainers’ existing pupils, trainees’ current practice pupils, and two people who wanted to look at their activity of interest (yoga) but had not had any AT lessons previously. Other activities included playing the violin, flute, piano, and drum kit, singing, and Tai Chi. These visits gave rise to many questions and discussions.

All trainees had the opportunity of working on all visitors in the chair and/or on the table. I demonstrated working on visitors with their particular area of interest and invited the trainees to participate by putting a hand on to notice particular things relevant in that moment or to draw something to the pupil’s attention.


Some time was spent watching people at a distance, discussing what we saw, mimicking, and answering the question: ‘What do you have to do to yourself to move like that?’



Sample log (see previous reports)

Third Year Logged Time – terms 7, 8, 9

Student symbol

Face-to-face training

Logged formal practice (incl hols)











212 + PLs


389.35 + 13 private lessons


Three-year totals

Student symbol

Face-to-face training

Logged formal practice (incl hols)













1,046.85 + 22 private lessons




‘Of all the factors affecting training probably the most important is the skill, experience, integrity, and thoughtfulness of the trainers.’ John Nicholls in email to MS 

In the two previous reports we have not commented on ourselves as the trainers. At this point, we believe it may be useful to do so.

Our own trainings with Jeanne and Aksel Haahr were completed in 1984 (LJ) and 1985 (MS) and followed the traditional timetable of four hours per day (including a break), five days per week. We are satisfied that it was a good training. It was a developed version of a 1960’s Walter Carrington training. The training had structure and gave us a very solid grounding in a particular way of working. Our initial lessons were (LJ) with Jeanne and Aksel (both trained by Carrington in the 1960s) and (MS) with Tessa Cawdron and Inge Henderson (trained by Marjory Barlow). The Haahr’s training course included regular teaching from Tony Spawforth, Anne Battye and Jean Clark. Subsequently, as qualified teachers, we were exposed to further iterations of the Carrington lineage, as well as to other lineages, including Marj Barstow’s. We variously took lessons and attended workshops with Walter and Dilys Carrington, Kri Ackers, John Nicholls, Lyn Nicholls, Marj Barstow, Nili Bassan and other Macdonald-trained teachers, Anne Battye and both Wilfred and Marjory Barlow. With all of these teachers, emphases varied, but there were no tricks or gimmicks; all these teachers just kept coming back over and over to the basic building blocks of Alexandrian Inhibition and Direction. There was no need to repackage or rename or reconfigure – just repeated deepening application, encouragement to making a life habit of applying Inhibition and Direction to the quotidian as well as to more unusual or demanding situations. For more than 30 years prior to commencing our own training program, we conducted our private teaching practice, and raised two children.

Changes in training in the last three or four decades:

We have taught on other training courses since qualifying as teachers. From our experience over the years, we suggest that some AT teacher-trainers today are more articulate about the work than was generally the case in the 1970s. We were exposed to an example of someone being more articulate about the Alexander Technique when we met John Nicholls in the later 1980s. It made learning and developing as teachers much easier, and we have continued to work on and develop our own skills of clear communication. We believe that pupils and trainees learn more effectively if teachers are able to explain key concepts in articulate and coherent ways, offering words (concepts) which may provide a clear hook on which to hang the pupil’s or trainee’s experience (percepts). The trainer’s job is not only to provide the trainee with depth of practical understanding of Inhibition and Direction but importantly also to explain them.

Further background:

Music – We both studied music to tertiary level. Starting an instrument as a child helps to inculcate the idea of a daily discipline. The expectation is of an incremental improvement, probably imperceptible from one day to the next, yet realising that over longer periods things like quality of sound, accuracy, rhythm, musicality etc. are improving. The idea is implicit that one aims for more refinement every time one plays, always using the basic skills or building blocks to extend oneself a little further.

Physical activity – After about 10 years of teaching we both became formally interested in endurance sports and found that the same means-oriented approach was not only effective but also deeply satisfying. This meant patiently following a training plan, which was not always what one wanted to do or felt like; nevertheless, sticking to the steps produced strength and fitness and helped develop the requisite endurance. With technical sporting skills, it was also a matter of attending to means, using lots of variety in repeated drills each of which constituted a sort of game: as one played the game and attended to the means, one’s technical skills inevitably improved.

It is clear that there is nothing inherent about music performance or sports training that necessarily leads to deepening one’s appreciation of a means-orientated approach. However, our way of working, whether in music or sport or anything else, is means-oriented, borne of our AT practice.

The above-mentioned activities reinforce the idea of the importance of Inhibition and Direction as a means to using oneself well, and of the value of educational structures with logical content. We believe we have an understanding of the process needed to build deep skills.  We have incorporated this into the structure and content of our training course.



When considering the innovative nature of our training course before we began it, we asked ourselves the question:

“Can our training format produce not only competent teachers but also teachers comparable in competence with those from traditional/more conventional trainings?”

As we certify our first cohort, we now ask: 1) Are our graduates competent? and 2) How do they compare with graduates from elsewhere?

We believe the answers to both questions are positive. A possible caveat relates to how these outcomes link to possible future cohorts: Would a different group of trainees have turned out as well?

The comments of our various moderators and other experienced visiting teachers indicate that our trainees received a thorough education.

Of course, each visiting teacher was able to offer helpful ideas or suggestions of ways of improving particular things. Repeated feedback was that the trainees were always able to immediately make the recommended adjustments, with the sought-for outcomes. Resting on the solid basis of our training structure and content, the trainees showed an ability to successfully maintain what they had already learnt, e.g. not lose an effective, elastic ‘monkey’ (which we regard as an absolute basic skill), while adding whatever else was asked of them.

The progress through the three years was much as we had hoped for. By the end of the first year the trainees showed an ability to effectively work on themselves. At the end of the second year they had the skill to give a recognisable turn, meaning that they could use their hands to offer a clear stimulus for a ‘pupil’ to inhibit and direct. By the end of the third year they were able to not only give a clear stimulus for Inhibition and Direction but also to respond appropriately to the needs of a pupil, that is, they were able to use their hands to perceive with some accuracy, and also to respond verbally in a useful way. Their own use of themselves (personal skills of Inhibition and Direction), knowledge of the theory, and skill in communicating were at a level where we were entirely confident of their competence as beginning teachers. 

As mentioned earlier, the weekly time commitment, including face-to-face and private logged practice, was designed to be in the order of 13.5 hours for 30 weeks per year. Two of the trainees managed this quite closely, but the third’s competing demands saw lower totals. This trainee had private lessons extra to school time (lumped into face-to-face totals in Years 1 and 2) and this addressed the missed time, as judged by comparison across the three.

The theoretical figure of 13.5 hours multiplied by the number of weeks equals 1,215 hours overall. Adding a notional 100 hours for supervision, presentations, residential, etc. makes a total of 1,315 hours, which is 82% of the traditional 1600 hours. Adding the time spent on reading and writing tasks outside of school hours easily brings the total up to somewhere around 1,600 hours.

If we were to take on another cohort of trainees, we would consider making days or terms longer, depending on the makeup of that group.

The traditional process whereby a Head of Training is the final arbiter of readiness to teach may no longer be considered adequate for an ‘arm’s length’ assessment. I have noted elsewhere that for real rigour, external independent validation is important. We dealt with the need for validation through multiple moderation visits from a range of moderators and senior teachers.



During their final year, the trainees worked with and/or were moderated by five senior teachers. Here is a chronological selection of what our moderators said during the final year (note that there were also comments about what still needed attention):

Merran Poplar (STAT moderator), mid-T7

“X seems well on track to becoming a skilful teacher”

“Y…good understanding of Alexander principles…will certainly have much to offer … students.”

“Z …great things ahead.”


John Nicholls (former HoT, now international teacher trainer), beginning of T8

“I’m happy to write that the three trainees from Canberra are…on a par with trainees… from … courses … at the higher end of the quality spectrum…”

I think Michael and Léonie have done a very good job with this training…” 


Ann Shoebridge (AuSTAT moderator), T8

All trainees exhibited clear directed use of their whole selves in activity and while teaching, appropriate to or better than the standard normally expected of trainees at the point of becoming qualified AT teachers.”

“…the… graduating teachers demonstrate an understanding and practice of AT principles equal to or better than graduate teachers from other AuSTAT accredited courses…”


Jenny Thirtle (AuSTAT Co-Director of Training), end of T8

“…will be able to continue to grow and develop.”

“…will continue to grow as a new teacher.”


Penelope Carr (AuSTAT moderator), end of T9

“All the trainees show so much … understanding of the Technique it is a credit to their trainers that they feel ready to go out and teach”

“X…will be a great asset to the Alexander community…I was impressed with the clarity X has in communicating the Technique. Well done trainers!”

“…enthusiasm and clarity…Y will make an excellent teacher” 



The overall title of this project is, ‘An Enquiry into Teaching and Learning the Skills Needed to Become a Competent Alexander Technique Teacher’.

Teaching: Our carefully staged learning progressions, created with great attention to precision and clarity, using a variety of hands-on teaching, including traditional procedures and Directed Activities as well as more theoretical information, gave us a clear route to follow. Judging by the outcome, this has been effective.

Learning: The learning framework, referred to above, appears to have been an effective route for the trainees to learn the requisite skills.

Competence: We believe that our trainees are competent to teach the AT. Additionally, they have an attitude of ongoing enquiry and open-ended improvement. Visiting experts have indicated that the training has been at least as effective as other trainings, and in some cases more effective (see under MODERATION above).

Any teacher training course’s overall tone and effectiveness is characteristic of its Heads of Training and other teaching staff. Accordingly, if any other Head of Training were to replicate our daily program, it is unlikely that they would necessarily replicate our results. We also note that many of the activities, procedures and structures mentioned in this report are not unique to CATTS. However, we document them here along with the CATTS outcomes: they point to the usefulness and effectiveness of a clear, disciplined structure based on rigorous content.


Michael Stenning

October 2019